OK, Can We Stop With the "How Often Men Think About Sex" Studies Already?

Guess how often men think about sex, according to a new study from Ohio State University? (Bigger question: Does it even matter in the slightest?)
Publish date:
August 23, 2013
science, stereotypes, Daily Mail

Do you guys remember that MTV show "Big Urban Myth"? It was basically a half-assed proto-version of "Mythbusters," minus most of the science and plus all that magical trashiness that characterized MTV in the early 2000s (see also: "Cribs," "The Osbournes," and that one show where your parents picked out a date for you). It was also just "edgy" enough that it didn't come on until quite late at night, so naturally I was obsessed with sneaking down to the basement and watching it on our ancient television set under the guise of "practicing piano."

All of the episodes kind of blur together now, but there is one that stands out: the one that covered the "Men think about sex every 7 seconds" myth. Tragically, the majority of the episode itself seems to have been lost to the annals of pre-YouTube time, but this (hilariously Goo Goo Dolls-infused) clip confirms what I vaguely remember -- that trying to put a number on how often dudes think about doin' it is a fool's game.

So why, then, do we (and researchers) keep insisting on doing it? Whether it's the Kinsey Institute, HuffPo, or WebMD, it seems like we can't go more than six months without some publication getting all chin-strokey about whether guys are slaves to their endocrine systems. It's as if it's a universally recognized truth that dudes are nothing but lumps of flesh attached to a perma-chub, like their dicks are a compass needle and the whole world is magnetized. The only question that remains seems to just be of the specific degree of boner indefatigability.

This time around, the commentary's been from the Daily Mail, who recently reported on a study out of Ohio State University saying that 18-25 year old men apparently think about sex 34 times a day, which averages to every 28 minutes "when allowing for eight hours sleep." For once, the study also acknowledges that dudes have occasionally been known to think about other things, including food (once every 38 minutes) and sleep (once every 33).

Women, meanwhile, only think about sexual things once every 51 minutes or so (with food clocking in at 62 and sleep every 72). Presumably, all that extra time is taken up ruminating on molecular biology and/or One Direction, but I have yet to see that abstract, so I guess we'll never know.

Disregarding the fact that the survey in question pulled data from college students, who likely have a skewed (read: extra-horny) perspective on such things, it's also frustrating in that, yet again, it felt the need to evaluate sexual desire as something quantifiable (and therefore standardized).

For one thing, framing the results of these studies in this way just reinforces the whole "men love sex, women love romance" dichotomy that drives people of every gender to act like jerkwads, either in an effort to subvert or live up to those expectations.

Reports like these also suggest that there is such thing as a "normal" number of times a day to think about sex, and that to think about it any less or more than this relatively arbitrary number either makes you a prude or a deviant. I would bet every one of you an infant-sized burrito that upon reading one of these pieces, most people immediately tried to track their own sex-thought rates and then freaked out accordingly.

It's like how some people can't keep a food intake diary because their urge to track numbers is too strong. For those of us who like both data and butts, there exists a mighty temptation to keep the world's weirdest tally for a day or so and subsequently wonder whether the fact that our "thinking about sex cycle" is approximately the length of a Parks and Recreation episode makes us a brain-slut.

Both of these factors combine, then, to create an unnecessarily fraught attitude toward sex for everyone. It's not just a self-esteem issue, either, though constantly fearing that your interest in sex is either too hearty or too lackluster is enough to give anyone an insecurity complex. It also causes other people to buy into this narrative, sometimes even subconsciously.

For example, just a few months ago I found myself griping to a partner mid-hookup for not having protection on him. "What kind of self-respecting 20-something dude doesn't carry condoms?" I muttered at him as I tore through my sock drawer (because, naturally, I didn't have any either).

He shrugged. "I just…don't."

At the time, we made do by raiding my housemate's stash (with permission) and then forgetting about the snag. Later, though, I realized that though I rabidly fight against slut-shaming, it was arguably just as damaging for me to snark at that guy for not being perceptibly "eager enough" to bone.

Automatically assuming that dudes constantly have sex on the brain is part of the same power imbalance that forces women to downplay their sexualities so as to not be considered "easy." Frankly, demanding to know why someone hasn't adhered their individual interest in sex to a constantly shifting norm is a shitty thing to do to anyone, period.

It was certainly an asshole move on my part, and I apologized the next time my friend and I ran into each other. Especially considering the fact that my own once-every-10-minutes sex-thought schedule puts me well above the alleged average for respectable young women, I felt (and still feel) like a Grade-A hypocrite.

But that's how insidious these stereotypes are, and studies like the one out of Ohio State aren't helping. The fact that they continue to be funded and then publicized implies that some "ideal" interest in sex is as easy to scientifically standardize as a daily Vitamin C requirement.

These studies are almost always framed as though they'll provide a final answer to questions about sexuality; in reality, they only serve to further complicate the myths. And that's not good for people of any gender.

Kate Tweets almost as often as she thinks about sex, which is quite often. Sorry: @katchatters